Screened at: SXSW 2013
Directed By: Jessie McCormack
Starring: Radha Mitchell, Jon Dore, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Weston
Writer-director Jessie McCormack’s “Gus” is an actor’s film and she knows it, keeping a light hand on the camera and letting her cast take the lead in bringing the characters to life in a notably natural way. Radha Mitchell, Jon Dore, Michelle Monaghan and Michael Weston make for an absolutely delightful quartet, all relatable and real in their own ways, resulting in both hearty laughs and honest drama.
Lizzie and Andie (Radha Mitchell and Michelle Monaghan) are best friends. In fact, they’re so close that when Andie winds up pregnant after a one-night stand, she offers to give her baby to Lizzie who so desperately wants a child, but can’t conceive. Trouble is, part of the arrangement requires that Andie move in with Lizzie and her husband, Peter (Jon Dore), during the pregnancy and Andie’s free-spirited ways don’t exactly match up with Lizzie and Peter’s quaint lifestyle. Complicating the situation further, Peter’s brother, Casey (Michael Weston), is released from rehab. Afraid he’ll relapse if he lives alone, Peter insists that Casey come stay with them as well. Throw in Lizzie and Peter’s adorable dog, Joyce, and you’ve got one very crowded home.
“Gus” touches upon some weighty issues and packs a good deal of emotion, but it’s all nestled neatly into a delightful and highly entertaining environment. McCormack has a knack for delivering characteristics and situations that feel vaguely familiar, but in creative, fresh and often very amusing ways. The piece opens up particularly strong with a concise yet telling sense of their lives through a mere casual phone call that very clearly labels Lizzie and Peter as the quintessential couple, and Andie as the eccentric friend. McCormack then adds a layer to Lizzie and Peter’s relationship by following them to their therapist’s office. Rather than use the opportunity as an excuse to douse us in exposition, she highlights one of the couple’s main issues by having Mimi Kennedy’s Dr. Grayson simply blurt out that their problems are mundane and bore her.
While “Gus” is loaded with uniquely memorable moments, McCormack does slip a little when it comes to the progression of the relationships. Some major moves feel unwarranted, but by the time the characters are making these life-changing decisions, we’ve already been so charmed by Mitchell, Dore, Monaghan and Weston that it’s easy to overlook certain plot holes and reconsider the script missteps as a way of accepting these people for who they are.
At first, Mitchell’s Lizzie appears to be the more straightforward character of the bunch. She’s a homemaker who so genuinely loves her husband. However, as the film progresses, Mitchell delicately reveals additional layers until the character utterly explodes in an emotional yet almost darkly comic tantrum. Dore puts up a fine performance as well, but Peter is the least developed and therefore least engaging of the group. All four wind up making drastic changes to their lifestyles, but as people, Peter’s the only one who still feels like the same guy.
Monaghan’s Andie, on the other hand, not only has the steepest arc, but is also just an especially colorful character. Her tendency to laugh at inappropriate things is harsh at first, but the more you get to know her, the more you appreciate her quirks. But, even while playing such an eccentric character, Monaghan manages to keep her in control just enough to make the path she takes very sensible. While Weston doesn’t get as much screen time as the other three, he still manages to earn one of the more drastic and satisfying transitions, and makes the assist in a good deal of the film’s funnier gags.
But more than anything, it’s the group dynamic that makes “Gus” such a winner. They’re strange, rigid, silly and occasionally offensive, but it’s that unpredictability and the cast’s honest chemistry that makes them pleasant to spend time with and makes you want to stay by their side when things get complicated.